Saturday, October 19, 2013

Don't be Polite

Greenwich Village, 1958
You can be anything you want in comedy—but not polite. Dance, sing, play a tough guy, tramp, showgirl—but don’t worry about offending anyone. If you do, you’ll get killed. Life is tough and if you don’t look out, you’ll get crushed by it. Sometimes, being funny is the only way out.
Sophie thinks I left her dad, but the truth is, we weren’t getting along and it was a mutual thing. We divorced when she was three. Her friends call me Mrs. Tanya because I kept my married name. For Sophie, sure, but also for me, because I liked it.

Is Sophie happy? Is anybody? The guys I work with are a great bunch. My best friends, Chip and his wife Sam—short for Samantha—love and adore her and they’ve sort of become a second family. Plus, she has Ruby and Gordy and I love their parents, too.

Me, I feel lucky. I have friends, a great apartment, I date when I feel like it and I have a great career. What I always wanted to do was comedy and writing for people like Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca is a dream come true.

Sometimes, of course, it’s hard to get the other writers to listen, especially when they’re screaming at each other. I stand on the table and wave my sweater around. That gets everybody’s attention and they calm down. Or they don’t and I keep talking and luckily the producer agrees with me—I love Max. And I know he loves me.

Max was the one who discovered me, I guess. A friend told me he was looking for a writer for a show in the Poconos. I sent some sketches and I’ve been working with him ever since. You need someone like that, someone who believes in you. Without it, you’re just knocking around, trying to get someone to notice your work.

This is a tough business—and a lot of people go down or give up. I tell Sophie, you need talent of course and something you can do that no one else is doing. But you also need to put yourself out there, every day if need be, and make sure you get in to see the right people. You don’t do that—you’re dead.

She says she's lucky because I know everyone. But I don’t, really. I know the ones I know and they’ll be dead before long. She’s going to have to make her own connections. And she’s going to have to be strong.

What happens when you work around guys? Do you become one? Yes and no. I don’t see us as guys and a woman. I see us as funny people. If we can’t be funny, we have no business being there. It’s all about the laugh.

And Beats? Extremely funny, don’t think they’re not. I do quite a few sketches about them. I know they’re supposed to be the vanguard and all that, but puh-lease. I love it down here, but wherever I am is where the jokes are.

Why? People are busy. If you’re going to get them to come into a theater or sit down in their living rooms and turn on the TV, you need to keep ‘em laughing. You want to be a comic, you gotta do it. Just don’t be polite.

--Annie Tanya

Watching Television: Paul Townsend